American Legion officials cut a veteran’s microphone at a Memorial Day ceremony on Monday as he began talking about how the holiday was first marked by a group of freed black slaves.
The ceremony organizers turned off the microphone for about two minutes in the middle of Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter’s 11-minute speech, just as he began talking about how the holiday was born of a ceremony in which freed slaves honored deceased soldiers to the end of the civil war.
He explained, “The Day of Remembrance was first commemorated by an organized group of freed black slaves less than a month after the Confederacy surrendered.”
But moments later the sound was cut off, leaving Kemter looking confused and tapping the microphone before continuing his speech without amplification.
Cindy Suchan of the Hudson American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464 in Ohio told the Akron Beacon Journal that the organizers wanted the portion of the speech to be excluded as it was “not relevant to our program of the day” adding that “the theme of the day was honoring Hudson veterans.”
The microphone was cut off from Lieutenant Colonel Barnard Kemter’s keynote address at a Memorial Day ceremony in Hudson, Ohio as he began talking about the origins of the holiday’s slaves.
Kemter said he wanted to use his speech to detail the history of the origins of Memorial Day, which, he said in his speech, began when emancipated slaves gave fallen Union prisoners a proper burial.
Many of them died in the Battle of Fort Wagner on Morris Island, a battle in which many black soldiers fought.
The freed slaves reportedly excavated the mass grave and reburied 200 bodies of Union soldiers in a new cemetery with a high whitewashed fence with the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course,” referring to the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in Charleston, South Carolina, where they were buried.
On May 1, 1865, reports show, a crowd of 10,000 people, mostly freed slaves and some white missionaries, decided to parade around the racecourse, with little black schoolchildren carrying flowers and singing a Union marching song.
At the end of his speech, Kemter said, he received “countless compliments from attendees telling him it was “nice to hear the history.”
The clubhouse on the Charleston track where the Memorial Day events took place in 1865.
“It was well received,” Kemter said in the Akron Beacon Journal article, adding that many people told him they never knew about the slave origins of the holiday.
‘I find it interesting that’ [the American Legion] would take it upon themselves to censor my speech and deny me my right to speech under the First Amendment,” Kemter said. “This is not the same country I fought for.”
American Legion officials said they “asked him to adjust his speech, and he chose not to” before the Memorial Day ceremony.
Cindy Suchan, chairman of the Memorial Day parade committee and chairman of the Hudson American Legion Auxiliary, said the two minutes when Kemter’s microphone was turned off was part of what she asked him to rule out.
Kemter confirmed that he had received an email from an event organizer, which he did not name, requesting that part of his speech describing how black Americans helped establish Memorial Day, and asked the organizers to indicate which parts they wanted to omit.
The organizer emailed him back, he said, telling him that all parts marked should be removed, but said he hadn’t seen anything marked, and with less than 24 hours until the ceremony, “I didn’t have time to sit down.” and write another speech.’
The Battle of Fort Wagner on Morris Island was the Union attack on July 18, 1863, led by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. The infantry was one of the first major US military units composed of black soldiers
He said he showed the text to a Hudson government official, who told him to keep the speech intact.
On the day of the ceremony, Suchan said she had asked the sound engineer, AJ Stokes, to turn off Kemter’s microphone.
Stokes said he refused to do it himself, but pointed to the button that controls the microphone and said it was Jim Garrison, aide de camp for American Legion Lee-Bishop Post 464, who turned the microphone off and on.
When asked about the allegations, Garrison declined to say whether he had turned off the microphone, saying he had “nothing to add” to the situation.
Stokes said Suchan and Garrison were both “very adamant” about turning off the microphone, but he was “very upset” about what happened and feared he would be blamed, although Suchan said Stokes was “completely flawless”.
Kemter, meanwhile, thought there was a problem with the audio equipment, he said, but Stokes told him the truth about the incident afterwards.
In a video of the ceremony, the crowd tries to tell Kemter that they can’t hear him when the audio goes off, after which Kemter looks off screen and says, “AJ, microphone,” apparently talking to Stokes.
Kemter then smiled at the crowd and joked that this is why he told the crowd to come closer at the start of his keynote address.
He continues talking and after about two minutes the microphone turns on again and stays on for the rest of his speech.